Four OC families of special-needs children share their struggles, acceptance and happiness.
The Jackson Family
Teresa Jackson was almost six months pregnant when she was told her unborn baby boy will have Down Syndrome – coincidentally on March 21, 2016, World Down Syndrome Day. When she received the final diagnosis, she searched online for parent support groups and found the Down Syndrome Association of Orange County (DSAOC). She was connected to a kind volunteer that encouraged her to come to a Circle of Friends Parent Support Group.
“I was very emotional and scared driving to the meeting, but upon arriving, the Down Syndrome Association staff was very welcoming. I instantly was surrounded by other parents that had children with Down Syndrome and had previously felt everything that I was feeling,” said Teresa, who lives in Anaheim.
“During the presentation, I observed women of all ages and ethnicities. This comforted me to know that I wasn’t alone or did something wrong for this chromosomal condition to happen. After seeing, hearing, and experiencing an evening alongside kids with Down Syndrome, I felt the strength to accept this new journey and blessing.”
The Jackson family consists of Teresa and her husband Carlos, and their three children Carol (10 years), Caleb (6 years) and Caden (20 months). Caden has Down Syndrome and was born with Transient Leukemia which requires him to be monitored by CHOC’S Cancer Institute monthly. Caden enjoys climbing up stairs, swinging on the swing, going down the slide at the park and, most of all, loves to eat.
“If I knew then what I know now, I would never have cried as much as I did in front of my children. I really thought having a child with special needs was going to change my life and be a burden on my family,” she said.
“Yes, it is difficult, but we are stronger as a family and are dedicated to educate and inspire others along the way.”
Teresa is a sixth grade teacher at Clinton Elementary in Garden Grove. “As an elementary teacher, I’m hoping to be able to spread awareness and influence young minds about empathy, special needs, tolerance, and helping kids focus on what people can do.”
The Duffner Family
The Duffner family enjoys getting outside and playing various sports all together or participating on teams. The active family of seven from Yorba Linda includes three teenagers, Quinn (16), Ella (15), and Braeden (13), and the younger two children, Davis (9) and Happy (8).
When Happy was four years old, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Sensory Processing Disorder, and mild Cerebral Palsy. He loves to do all challenger sports, including basketball, baseball and tennis. However, it was difficult for Happy to participate on community sports teams, said his mother Pattye.
“The biggest family challenge we have faced with Happy is not being able to do typical sports with him. We tried and it was a nightmare. The level of competitive parents at such a young age really does not make it a fun experience for either Happy or me. We would both leave the court crying.”
That is, until Pattye discovered the Yorba Linda Basketball Challenger Sports, a basketball program tailored to the needs of special needs children.
“Challenger Sports through the city have been an unexpected blessing. Happy gets therapy, physical and occupational, through playing sports and having fun. His strength has grown greatly by these activities. His social skills are also practiced at sports too.”
Pattye said the sports program has enhanced Happy’s life just by offering an opportunity for kids of all abilities to participate. She said the program has taught him teamwork, dedication, listening skills, physical activities, sportsmanship and life skills.
“Teaching children to be kind to everyone is important. The importance of including everyone, making friends, and acceptance, even if someone is different then you.”
The Campos Family
Nothing holds Dorthy back from doing what she wants. From dancing to somersaults to being the cover model of Parenting OC’s April 2018 magazine – the three-year-old is unstoppable.
Her parents, Abe and Rachel Campos of Irvine, said she is a strong, outgoing, and loving little girl and a protective big sister to her two-year-old little brother Manny. Dorthy has Down Syndrome, but Rachel said that, too, does not stop her from helping her mommy and daddy with chores around the house.
“The biggest thing to remember is despite the special needs status, they’re people just like us,” said Rachel, “We treat her just like everyone else and don’t use her diagnosis as an excuse. As far as we’re concerned, our daughter can do anything!”
Dorthy loves the beach, particularly Laguna, and she loves to be in water, so bath time is a particularly fun adventure. She has a blast every time she goes to Disneyland as well. Rachel feels there has been no struggle or particular challenge their family has experienced that all families have not experienced.
“The challenges we have faced have probably been much the same as every other family out there – the unknown, and whether or not we’re doing enough for our kids.”
Rachel said the Down Syndrome Association of Orange County, as well as The Regional Center of OC, have both helped the family tremendously over the last few years as resources to connect them to the Down Syndrome community and become involved with activities and support groups.
Says Rachel: “People with Down Syndrome are unconditional lovers, which also means when someone hurts them, it hurts very deeply. That’s probably something everyone could apply in daily life regardless of who they’re dealing with – Down Syndrome or not.”
For more info on the special needs organizations, visit:
The Ringelman Family
Eight-year-old Austin Ringelman goes horseback riding every week – not just for fun, but also as a therapeutic and rehabilitative treatment. “Hippotherapy” uses riding as a means of improving coordination, balance, and strength.
Austin was born with spastic quad Cerebral Palsy. He can’t walk or talk and is feeding tube dependent. But his mother Brandi said he enjoys every session with the horses at Leaps and Bounds Pediatric Therapy in Norco.
“It’s something special and different he gets to do outside of the therapy clinic,” said Brandi, “We are so thankful for Austin’s hippotherapy clinic; they treat us like family, and provide their patients with the best care possible.”
Austin’s family consists of his parents Brandi and Jonathan, and his two younger sisters Paisley and Savannah. As a family, they are very active in spreading awareness and support for cerebral palsy patients. Brandi recently recorded a podcast about being a parent with a child with a disability on KKLA 99.5. She also connected with the small shop community that makes shirts and hats to sell and donate proceeds to a cause of her choice; she said they recently decided all funds they raise would go to Leaps and Bounds where Austin has benefited.
Brandi also actively shares her family’s story on her Instagram, which she said has helped her spread awareness and connect with other families who have children with disabilities.
“When it comes to raising awareness, I just share Austin’s story! So many more people can relate than I ever imagined; there is a whole community of us out there on Instagram and we are normalizing our children’s disabilities. It’s really something amazing and beautiful.”
As a family, the Ringelmans’ enjoy making memories at Disneyland as annual passholders, visiting the park together at least twice a month. While his parents regularly use various platforms to share his story, Brandi said Austin will always have his two strongest supporters: “Austin’s two little sisters will always be his biggest voice.”
For more information on hippotherapy and Leaps and Bounds Pediatric Therapy, visit leapsandboundspediatrictherapy.org
By Jackie Moe